The Self-Motivated Kid
Book Review

by Dr. Cheryl Peterson
BStrong Together Contributor

On January 18, 2018, BStrong Together will host a book discussion on the book, The Self-Motivated Kid: How to Raise Happy, Healthy Children Who Know What They Want and Go After It (Without Being Told). Dr. Shimi Kang, M.D., will also speak to the community on the topic of this book as part of the BStrong Together Speaker Series on January 30, 2018 at the Barrington High School Auditorium. I read Dr. Kang’s book as the parent of a seventh and ninth grader, hoping for a little inspiration and direction. With a doctorate in elementary education and over twenty-five years of experience in teaching and educational coaching and leadership, I also hoped the book was aligned with current research on motivation. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the ease with which Dr. Kang successfully delivers a message about effective parenting that is both research based and accessible to parents. I am excited to discuss this book with others and hear Dr. Kang speak at the upcoming events.

The premise of the book suggests we are equipped with intuition and a knowledge of what is right and healthy in order to be our best selves and effectively raise our young to become the best version of themselves. Dr. Kang’s secret to parenting is “there is no secret (p.12).” She asserts that while tapping into our intuition may be a simple solution, it is not always easy and may even run counter to the messages we receive about parenting from our culture, our community and our fears.

The book is structured on what Dr. Kang refers to as a four-part model of change including the dilemma, the solution, taking action and transformation. Dr. Kang leads the reader through these stages using the analogies of tigers and dolphins to define differences in parenting styles and techniques. The first section of the book describes a parenting style known as tiger parenting, a term made popular by the publication of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chau in 2011. Dr. Kang presents a description of this style of parenting and a compelling argument as to the long term, negative implications of such parenting on the health and well-being of children.

The book then moves into presenting the analogy of dolphin parenting as an alternative model. Dolphin parents facilitate rather than dictate, guide rather than direct and embrace the types of skills deemed necessary for success in the 21st century: creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. Throughout the book, Kang refers to these skills as the consciousness quotient, or CQ, as being an essential component for success and one dolphins embrace and teach their young quite effectively.

In the third section,"Taking Action", Dr. Kang provides concrete strategies for parenting more like dolphins and less like tigers. She offers many of the suggestions as prescriptions such as drink water, build in time for play, and ask permission before giving advice. These common-sense prescriptions address aspects of parenting that often become unbalanced in our fast-paced, competition driven communities. The concrete examples provided in the prescriptions make them easy to understand and implement and are delivered with a tone of support and empowerment. Throughout this section of the book, Kang supports her prescriptions with data and research evidence as well as anecdotal examples from her own family and practice.

Finally, in the last section, "Transformation", Dr. Kang presents a brief introduction to self-motivation and how it is developed. In her conclusion, she suggests parenting is based largely on intuition and pushes the reader in this final chapter to discover their own intuition and focus it on helping children build the foundation for motivating themselves rather than relying on our parenting as a motivating factor.

As a researcher, I appreciated Dr. Kang’s argument for a more balanced approach to parenting based on a holistic view of the research around wellness and establishing healthy habits. Her data and examples about the negative, long-term effects of tiger parenting on the well-being of children are substantiated in much of the current research on motivation, health and learning, and make a compelling argument. As a parent, I enjoyed her analogies and anecdotal stories of her own children and clients. I appreciated the simplicity of her message. However, I was also left slightly frustrated. I want to know the secret. I want it to be simple, and easy. I’m sure many readers will be left with the same emotion. But I must admit, the technique Dr. Kang employs is masterful as she follows her own advice and directs us to find our own path and answers based on the arguments presented and our knowledge of our own family and children rather than providing step-by-step instructions. She guides us as dolphins not tigers. Her strategy is effective, providing readers with a compelling argument for change, a vision for a better way and some strategies for taking action. The process of transformation is left to her readers to pursue and complete and she leaves the reader fully equipped to change and improve.

Dr. Kang’s words are enough to ignite a change in my own mindset, but it’s even more powerful knowing it is being shared with my community through BStrong Together. Community and collaboration are two elements supported by dolphin parenting, so it’s fitting that this message is being shared with such a large audience. Together we are stronger and I’m excited about the opportunity this book and Dr. Kang’s words and presence in our community has for helping parents, educators and community members reflect on their practices and find support and connection with others wanting to embrace the dolphin way to help us raise happy, healthy children who know what they want and go after it. I encourage our community to read the book and join in the discussion of these ideas on Thursday, January 18 from 9:30-11 at the Barrington Area Library and hear Dr. Kang speak on January 30 from 7-9 at the Barrington High School Auditorium. For more information about these events and the work of BStrong Together, visit the website at http://bstrongtogether.org.

Dr. Cheryl Peterson is a Barrington resident. She has a seventh and ninth grade student in the Barrington Schools. She holds a Doctorate degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Minnesota. For the last 25 years she has taught a multitude of grade levels and held instructional coaching and leadership roles in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. She is also a member of the BStrong Together Programming Committee and volunteer. Currently, she is exploring opportunities as an educational entrepreneur at https://explore-ideasconsulting.com.

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